If you run your cartridge using balanced cables, (I do), you might consider the Ayre P-5xe. Used it runs around $1,500. It is basically the same as the phono stage in the Ayre K-1xe, (albeit just a bit better sounding, according to Charles Hansen of Ayre fame). I own the K-1xe, and the phono boards are near reference. (The only phono stages that better it cost double to triple the price). However, Ayre equipment is meant to be run in balanced mode to take advantage of its design. So if you don't run a balanced system, you might not get all that this phono stage is capable of.
My two cents worth.
Good Luck in your search!
I've listened to the Cayin at my local dealer -- looks gorgeous and sounds the same. Why a solid state phono preamp in front of such a terrific tube integrated amp?
Not arguing, just curious.
Because i Think that the combination of Solid state with tubes could be more synergistic!
nothing special, i am here just looking for advice from people with much more experience in this field.
In response to Rdavwhitaker's query, if you're using a really low output MC cartridge, you might be better off with a decent quality solid state phono preamp, as there will, "typically", be less of a noise floor than with a tube preamp. (That is one reason why I prefer having a solid state preamp, and having tubes in my amp.) My Dynavector XV-1S cartridge, (0.3 MV output), has no issues whatsoever with my solid state preamp.
Another two cents from me.
I use an SS phono stage in my otherwise all tube system and it works extremeley well. I am a devoted tubophile but do find that they are not as quiet as SS when amplifying very small signals and that I experienced much better bass extension. I have a Dynevector 20x HO so I was able to buy a Graham Slee Graham Amp 2 SE for about $450 brand new. It is the MM or HO MC model in their line. I have a great deal of confidence that their upscale models are even better than the one I have which is astonishingly good.
There are a ton of good choices in that price range I am sure you will find a great one without having to break your budget.
Regarding last post:
I never read a bad review of the Grado PH-1 ($500). I have one with a tube preamp and a low output MM (0.5mV) and love the sound. Crisp and airy highs, thumpy tight bass, high headroom doesn't distort when stressed.
I've been pretty hapy with the PS Audio. It has great fleibility for gain adjustment.
JLTi would be the top of my list. Otherwise, a number of quality units may be available used, that all depends on timing and pricing (I know, not much help there). It will depend on what you can find.
the Adcom GFP 565 preamp has one of the best phono section for way uder 2k. I would also look at the older Classe gear such as DR-6&5 great built pieces with fab phono.
The under $2k phono stage is a tough category. First choice would be a used ZYX Artisan (reviewed one) - a superb phono at that price. Second would be a Pass XONO (owned one) - flexible gain, tight bass. Haven't heard the Ayre unit.
You should be able to get the excellent Nagra BPS used for under $2K. It is a superb phono stage.
Ray Samuels Audio (RSA) F-117 Nighthawk MC/MM phono pre-amp.
Don't let the size or price fool you, it's an amazing phono pre-amp!
Agree with Audiofell.
Used Pass Xono
I had a Moon LP5.3 that I've just sold two weeks ago. I really loved that unit. It offers superb bass and dynamics. Sound is natural and coherent.
Plus, the many possible adjustments with internal jumpers are easy to do and can change the sound, just like tube rolling can.
I sold it because I'm now with Luxman integrated which offers a surprising phono stage!
I picked up a used PS Audio GCPH phono stage for under $600, and it is wonderful. It has both balanced and SE outputs, adjustible loading and gain, and a front panel volume control (With Remote!) Such versatility is nice to have in any audio component.
Audiomat Phono 1.5 or 1.6. Very natural/organic; I prefer it over quite a few others I've owned. Only limitation is its maximum of 200 ohm loading for MC's.
It's a little more than $2K with all the upgrades but I would encourage you to consider the K&K maxxed out.
While I have not heard many of the current contenders at that price point, I would agree w Jtimothya- ZYX Artisan. There might be some new stock left @ former dealer Sorasound that would be very close to your budget or definitely used would be under $2K. A very, very good piece that can hold its own w such top end phono stages as Manley Steelhead, Doshi, and high end VAC. Its not AS good, but the difference is small. Plenty of gain for LO MC carts (active gain stage) w none of the difficulties associated with transformer matching.
I tend to agree with the cognoscenti that the Ayre P5Xe, Xono, and JLTi may stand above some of the rest, all of which are also fine. I am pleased with my P5Xe, but I have no basis for claiming it is superior to either of the other two. I never heard the ZYX Artisan, but I take Swampwalker's word for its goodness. Audiofeil, Re the Xono, does the "big" power supply make much difference as compared to the standard one? Another phono stage that is getting mentioned as a "giant killer" is the Jasmine 2.0SE. It may use tubes, however.
Easy: Jasmine LP2.0SE or Mark II. Less than half your max.
Addendum: The Jasmine 2.0SE is solid state, not tubes. Costs $500, so fits all your desires. Question to 213Cobra: The 2.0 Mk II is said on the Jasmine website to be an upward evolution of the 2.0SE, but on eBay the 2.0SE costs a few bucks more than the MkII. What's up with that? Looking at photos of the respective circuit boards, it seems that the diff between the two versions must relate to the choice and/or quality of the capacitors. Otherwise, they appear exactly alike. It looks also like a DIYer could make further upgrades to the circuit; there is lots of room to play.
I haven't heard the new MkII but observed the same things you cite. Having spent quite a lot of time with the 2.0 > 2.0SE comparison and listened to some of the company's amps, and knowing Jasmine's track record for making content improvements when claimed, I completely trust that the Mk II is not regressive relative to the SE. The differences between the initial 2.0 and the SE were materially slight but discernible sonically. That the essential circuit is not changed works for me.
The designer has proven across his electronics product line to be worthy of being taken seriously. He voices his electronics for startlingly good music performance, especially considering price, and does not skimp on build quality nor parts. There are many reasons the MkII might be found for a bit less on eBay than the prior SE, having nothing to do with content changes. Competing with and sometimes sourcing from Chinese firms in my own business illustrates that point often. If anyone feels wary of the MkII, default to the excellent SE and worry no further.
You're right, DIY improvements are highly feasible.
Used zyx artisan. New one is slightly higher than ur range